Rampant Airport Delays Lead to Violence in China

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Although the number of airline passengers has skyrocketed over the past decade, China’s infrastructure has been unable to keep the pace. And as the number of delayed flights have risen, so too have the accounts of passenger brawls and acts of civil disobedience.

The problem has gotten so bad, the employees of at least one Hong Kong airline are learning kung fu as self defense.

Beijing Capital International is the worst airport for on-time departures, with an average delay of nearly 90 minutes. Another Chinese airport, Shanghai Pudong International, ranks fourth on that same list. Fewer than 30 percent of flights leaving Beijing airport are on time.

China plans to invest $230 billion to build 55 new airports in the coming decades, including a second in Beijing that will become the world’s largest when completed. But that’s little solace to the passengers who are constantly bumped from their flights now.For more than a year, passengers — mostly Chinese, but some American and other nationalities — have routinely acted out against airline staff. A three-day and multiple cancellation delay for a 2012 United flight from Shanghai to Newark led to frazzled nerves and fisticuffs. After baggage personnel were caught manhandling travelers’ luggage, they were attacked and beaten by passengers. After the passengers were finally able to make it to their destination, they received $1,000 vouchers for a future United flight, although no one seemed to be in a hurry to use it.

Also in 2012, 20 or so angry passengers angered by a 16-hour flight delay, stormed the Shanghai runway, narrowly missing an oncoming plane. In July of this year, 30 other irate passengers stormed a runway in Nanchang after a seven-hour delay. The Shanghai passengers would later receive about $160 in compensation from the offending airline.

With no end in sight to delays, the problems seem to be worsening — more than 26 fights were broken up at Chinese airports between May and August of this year. Some of these brawls have sent airport employees to the hospital with severe injuries.

Luckily there have been peaceful protests as well. Last year a group of stranded passengers took over the public announcement system to sing songs after airline staff deserted the terminal.